NEWS RELEASE: BMAC UNVEILS EXPANSION PLANS

NEWS FROM BRATTLEBORO MUSEUM & ART CENTER
For release on November 19, 2019, at 11 a.m.
Contact: Danny Lichtenfeld
danny@brattleboromuseum.org
802-257-0124 x108

Brattleboro Museum & Art Center and M&S Development Unveil Plans
for $30 Million Arts-Driven Community and Economic Development Project

HIGH-RESOLUTION IMAGES AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — The Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) and M&S Development unveiled plans today for a $30 million community and economic development project that will harness charitable gifts, private investment, and public funds to expand the museum’s cultural and educational offerings, draw more visitors to southern Vermont, and fill a need for new housing in downtown Brattleboro.

The centerpiece of the project is a new 55,000-square-foot building to be constructed at the foot of Main Street in Brattleboro, alongside a cascading waterfall in the Whetstone Brook. The building will contain state-of-the-art new museum galleries and classrooms, 24 apartments overlooking the Connecticut River, a cafe with outdoor seating, a rooftop sculpture garden, terraces, a footbridge, and a kayak launch.

“This ambitious project will transform BMAC from a ‘hidden gem’ into one of America’s most vibrant regional museums,” said BMAC Director Danny Lichtenfeld. “It will provide opportunities for people from all walks of life to discover art as a lifelong means of expression, understanding, and inspiration, and it will encourage enduring economic and civic vitality in Brattleboro and the surrounding region.”

“Twenty-first century community development must include not only housing, restaurants, retail, and offices, but cultural and public spaces that draw people together and foster community interaction,” said Bob Stevens, Principal at Brattleboro’s M&S Development and a nationally recognized expert in community enabled development. “We know that investing in vibrant downtowns creates jobs, increases property values, and attracts young families.”

“Cultural institutions play a vital role in our communities—for residents and visitors alike,” said Heather Pelham, Acting Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. “This project will put BMAC on the map, connecting it to other acclaimed art museums throughout the region and creating a must-visit arts corridor in western New England.”

ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN & RE-ENGAGING WITH THE WATERFRONT

The new building, which features museum facilities at street level and two floors below, with apartments on four floors above, was designed by Schwartz/Silver Architects of Boston, in collaboration with Stevens & Associates of Brattleboro.

“The architects’ brief was to design a bold, 21st century building that offers a robust ‘Welcome to Brattleboro’, while at the same time harmonizing with the Town’s historic streetscape,” said Lichtenfeld. “It was also very important to us that the new building be open and inviting, with art visible from the sidewalk and across the street, even when the museum is closed. We know that art museums can be intimidating places, and we want BMAC to be as transparent and welcoming as possible.”

Lichtenfeld noted that another requirement of the design was that the building take maximum advantage of its waterfront location. “Brattleboro has a stunning waterfall in the heart of downtown, where the Whetstone Brook tumbles into the Connecticut River, but access is currently limited in such a way that very few people get to see it. It was therefore important to us that the new building be designed to enable museum visitors and the general public to get up close and personal with that dramatic feature of the natural landscape.”

To that end, the design for the new building includes broad terraces accessible from Main Street, leading to a footbridge that spans the Whetstone Brook. Plans also call for a kayak dock near the base of the waterfall.

“In terms of providing access to Brattleboro’s waterways, it so happens that our project dovetails beautifully with the plans already underway to convert the nearby Charles Dana Bridge over the Connecticut River to pedestrian/bike access only,” said Susan McMahon, Executive Director of Landmark Trust USA and a member of the BMAC Building Committee. “When that happens, the bridge and the surrounding riverfront will become a hub of outdoor recreation, and BMAC’s terraces and footbridge will provide a convenient link between Main Street and the riverfront.”

NEW AND IMPROVED MUSEUM PROGRAMS

“Our new building will be a glorious addition to the Brattleboro streetscape, but it’s what will take place inside the building that will change lives,” said BMAC Chief Curator Mara Williams.

According to Williams, new galleries will remove constraints on the type of art BMAC can bring to Brattleboro. “We love our historic home in Union Station,” said Williams, “but it was designed to accommodate early 20th century train passengers, not 21st century art and museum-goers. Our new galleries will enable us to bring cutting-edge, immersive, interactive art exhibits to Brattleboro on a regular basis, as well as exhibits that require special technology or climate control.”

“And we will finally have proper space for our extensive education programs,” Williams added, “which are bursting at the seams.”

During the past school year, more than 1,200 K-6 students visited the museum on school field trips, and several hundred more took part in workshops, classes, and special events, such as BMAC’s annual LEGO contest.

“For many of those kids, it was their first time in an art museum, their first exposure to an entirely new world of creativity and ideas,” said BMAC Education Curator Linda Whelihan. “With a proper classroom and other spaces designed for education activities, we will be able to do so much more to serve children and adults in our community. Summer camps, after-school programs, classes for lifelong learners—these are just some of the many possibilities we’ve been discussing.”

With BMAC’s rotating exhibits and education programs slated to move into the museum’s new building, plans call for the grand main gallery of Union Station to be transformed into a long-term showcase of the artwork of Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason, renowned artists who have divided their time between New York and Brattleboro for the past 51 years.

“We believe there should be a place the public can go, year after year, to experience the extraordinary artwork of these two American masters,” said BMAC Capital Campaign Committee co-chair Margaret Everitt. “And where better than Brattleboro, the place they have spent the past five decades gaining inspiration and honing their craft?”

“Just as the Farnsworth Museum of Art is associated with the Wyeths, and Mass MoCA with Sol LeWitt and James Turrell, BMAC will become the singular destination for art lovers seeking to experience the artwork of Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason,” Everitt added.

IMPACT OF CULTURAL TOURISM

“Our current expectation,” said Lichtenfeld, “is that BMAC’s annual attendance will more than double—from 16,000 today to roughly 35,000, when this transformation is complete. Predicting these things is as much an art as a science, but we have been studying the outcomes of other New England museum expansion projects, including Mass MoCA, the Shelburne Museum, and perhaps most interestingly the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland, Maine, an institution similar in many ways to BMAC, which saw a five-fold increase in visitorship following its 2016 relocation and expansion.”

“The significance of those projections,” said Dan Yates, President & CEO of Brattleboro Savings & Loan and President of the BMAC Board of Trustees, “is not only what they indicate in terms of BMAC making a positive difference in people’s lives, but what we know about the multiplier effect that cultural tourism has in the local economy.”

“People who travel to Brattleboro to visit the new BMAC will eat in local restaurants, stay in nearby hotels, visit Brattleboro’s outstanding galleries and breweries, and shop in its stores,” Yates added. “Their dollars will in turn translate into increased spending capacity for local residents and workers and, ultimately, more jobs.”

TURNING VISION INTO REALITY

In terms of what it will take for BMAC and M&S to turn their bold vision of arts-driven community and economic development into a reality, Lichtenfeld said, “This is a $30 million construction project. BMAC needs to raise $12 million in charitable gifts, and the housing ownership group led by M&S needs to secure $10-12 million in equity and financing. We expect the remaining $6-8 million to come from federal and state tax credits and grants. In addition, BMAC plans to raise $3 million in endowment funds, so our total fundraising goal is $15 million. Our capital campaign is off to a very good start, and we expect to continue raising funds through next spring.”

“I couldn’t be more excited about this project or prouder of the individuals and organizations who have developed this exciting vision for our community,” said State Sen. Becca Balint (D-Windham). “I can’t wait for the day when my family and I will walk across the footbridge over the Whetstone Brook and into the new BMAC. This project is going to be an incredible gift to this wonderful, deeply creative community.”

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ABOUT THE BRATTLEBORO MUSEUM & ART CENTER

Founded in 1972, the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) is a non-collecting, contemporary art museum located in Brattleboro, Vermont’s historic Union Station. The mission of BMAC is to illuminate art and ideas in ways that inspire, inform, and connect people from all walks of life. BMAC presents 15-20 contemporary art exhibitions and 60-70 cultural events per year. Notable recent exhibitions have included Emily Mason: To Another Place, If she has a pulse, she has a chance, Roz Chast: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Alfred Leslie: Selections from ‘100 Views Along the Road’, and Wolf Kahn: Density & Transparency. BMAC partners with Head Start programs and K-12 schools throughout the tri-state region surrounding Brattleboro on an array of programs for young people.

ABOUT M&S DEVELOPMENT

M&S Development was formed in Brattleboro, Vermont, in 2014 to address the decline of New England’s rural downtowns. Since then, M&S has helped distressed communities find local solutions to reverse this trend, providing comprehensive real estate development, transaction structuring, and tax-credit financing support to complex, multi-faceted projects with deep social and economic impacts.

STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT

“This project is one of the reasons we continue to expand our business here in Brattleboro. I’ve always been proud of Brattleboro’s status as one of the “Top five small art towns in America,” and the new museum will create a much-needed cornerstone to support that distinction, as well as cement Brattleboro’s place as a contemporary art destination in the East. We look forward to being a part of this exciting venture and to watching what it will bring to our community.”

— David Hiler, Owner & Co-Founder
Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery

“The Vermont Arts Council believes that the arts have a critical role to play in building healthy and vibrant communities, which is why we are enthusiastic about the ambitious plan that the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center is sharing today. We applaud BMAC’s goal to share contemporary art and programming with a broad public and to encourage visitors from throughout the region.”

— Karen S. Mittelman, Executive Director
Vermont Arts Council

“Strong communities with vibrant walkable downtowns, diverse housing options, and access to goods, services, culture, and recreation are essential to bringing people to Vermont and keeping them here. The BMAC project is a bold and creative approach that will not only strengthen the community of Brattleboro but will help grow the regional economy and make Vermont more affordable.”

— Josh Hanford, Commissioner
Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development

“We are delighted to see BMAC and M&S Development partnering to help address some of the economic challenges we face in southern Vermont. This innovative partnership will bring expanded creative-economy opportunities and visitors to the region. Additionally, the creation of much-needed new housing downtown strengthens our ability to attract and retain workforce—a priority for our economy.”

— Adam Grinold, Executive Director
Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation

“I love BMAC for so many reasons, but mostly because it’s everything a museum should be: welcoming, accessible, thought-provoking, and inspiring. I am thrilled to be part of this bold vision for the future.”

— Kim Benzel, Curator in Charge
Dept. of Ancient Near Eastern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art